Toad The Wet Sprocket

Sony, 1994


REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


If only the band name hadn’t been so dumb, perhaps we would all have a different view of Toad the Wet Sprocket after all these years.

Dulcinea is the band’s fourth album and their commercial and songwriting peak, the second of their two big ’90s albums (Fear came out in 1991 and had the hits “All I Want” and “Walk On The Ocean”). By this time, the band had tamped down their early jangle-pop and rawer sound for something a bit more pop-rock and polished, and it hit as alt-rock was a defining musical force. People were gobbling up R.E.M. and Collective Soul and Counting Crows and Seven Mary Three and Candlebox, in addition to the grunge bands of the time, and Toad fit right into that sound.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Divorced from that era—taken on its own merits—Dulcinea is a good album, full of confident melancholy, thoughtful lyrics and great melodies that stick with the listener. “Something’s Always Wrong” was the first hit, a moody midtempo pop-rocker with some good vocal harmonies and lyrics about how tough it is to be a youth. The extended instrumental closer, with Glen Phillips wordlessly singing over top, is a necessary closer to the song.

But that’s only one of the great songs. “Listen” and “Woodburning” are highlights, the former especially effective in a slow build to its power-chord climax. The best song, not only of this album but of Toad’s entire career, is “Fall Down,” which was played live for a while before recording; the wait was worth it, as it’s one of the great alt-rock singles of the decade.

The slower songs aren’t musically exciting but are lyrically interesting, at least more so than other bands of the era; “Fly From Heaven” describes the viewpoint of Jesus’ brother and “Crowing,” a fan favorite, tackles relationship struggles. “Stupid” and “Windmills” are rather average at best, while “Nanci” is a deft country song that sounds out of place but somehow works in the runtime (it’s a comparison between singers Nanci Griffith and Loretta Lynn, and why not?).

Things lose steam after “Fall Down,” unfortunately; “Inside” and “Begin” rehash sounds already done better elsewhere and “Reincarnation Song” takes too long to get going, then plods along with Phillips yowling tunelessly, then ends with a feedback snarl. It’s maybe an attempt to sound like Live on Throwing Copper but it just doesn’t work, at least for me.

Still, the album stands as the last great thing Toad would ever do and a solid album that’s more than the two hits it yielded. Worth checking out for fans of the era and those who turned on “Fall Down” recently and thought hey, I always kinda liked that one. There’s more where that came from.

Rating: B+

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